The story of Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu
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The story of Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu

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The story of Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu

On June 6, 1956, the famous archaeologist Hiram Bingham died in Washington, who went down in history as the discoverer of Machu Picchu. Although not everyone believes that he was the first to arrive at the legendary Inca citadel, since the Peruvian farmer Agustín Lizárraga already recorded his existence some years before.


HIram BIngham's Bigrage

Born in Honolulu (Hawaii) on November 19, 1875, Hiram Bingham was the son and grandson of the first Protestant missionaries to arrive in the volcanic archipelago of the Pacific. Steadfast discipline and an upbringing toward a life as a missionary made Bingham's childhood one of the saddest times in his life; he even went so far as to steal $ 250 from the family account so he could run away with a friend. In 1892 his parents took him to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and he subsequently entered Yale University. The family's savings were only enough for the young man to support himself for a year and he was forced to do a multitude of jobs, from kitchen assistant to salesman of sweets and books at home, to private teacher of the richest classmates. Despite all the difficulties, Bingham finally managed to graduate from Yale in 1898.


Back at the home of his parents, Bingham held various trades, but never managed to feel fulfilled. It was in 1898 when his life changed completely when he met Alfreda Mitchell, daughter of Alfred Mitchell and Annie Olivia Tiffany, daughter and heiress of Charles Tiffany, founder of the famous New York jewelry Tiffany & Company, with whom he fell in love. madly. In August 1899 he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley and received his doctorate from Harvard in 1905 where he worked as a professor of history.


A postin wedding

In 1900, Bingham married Alfreda, with whom he had seven children and from whom he would end up divorcing in 1937. This union allowed Bingham to become part of the American wealthy class and allow himself luxuries of which until then he had never he had been able to enjoy. Finally, between November 1906 and May 1907, Bingham set out on his first expedition accompanied by Hamilton Rice, a young doctor who had gained some fame as an explorer on his journey from Guayaquil to the Napo River in Ecuador. The idea of ​​Bingham, who by then had already published some academic articles, was to write a biography of Simón Bolívar and follow the route that the liberator carried out between Caracas and Bogotá, but he never did.


In December 1908, Bingham participated in the First Pan American Scientific Congress held in Santiago de Chile, and during the coordination process of the North American delegation he met President Theodore Roosevelt with whom he would maintain a great friendship until his death. At the end of the congress, Bingham moved to Lima and from there to Cuzco, where he was received with all the honors by the Peruvian authorities delighted that a North American delegate attending the scientific congress had the intention of exploring the country.


Bingham visited Cuzco and its surroundings for a time and left in 1909 to continue his exploration, which took him to Abancay, where he recognized the site of Choquequirao at the express wish of the prefect of the region Juan José Nuñez.


The discovery of Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham's curious story is full of unknowns and contradictions. Some believe that he was the model that would inspire the character of the famous fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones –although others think it was the archaeologist Sylvanus Morley–, and for others, he was simply an explorer fascinated by South American culture who took the credit for it. discovery of Machu Picchu when, in fact, it arrived at the site nine years after its authentic discoverer, the Peruvian farmer Agustín Lizárraga.


In search of Vilcabamba

Bingham had tried to convince the Peruvian authorities that he was neither a scientist nor an expert in Inca culture, but his explanations were of no avail and he was forced to leave, as part of a large caravan, to the ruins of Choquequirao. In reality, Bingham was not an archaeologist and in the days he spent at the site he took many photographs, carefully measured the monuments, and described the environment as accurately as he could.


On the walls of Choquequirao he was able to read the names and dates of the first explorers who arrived at the place written with charcoal. Among them, Bingham carefully wrote down those of Eugene de Sartiges accompanied by the Peruvians José María Tejada and Marcelino León in 1834; José Benigno Samanez, Juan Rivas Plata and Mariano Cisneros in 1861 ... The last group was that of Bingham, made up of the prefect Núñez himself and Lieutenant Cáceres. At the end of the expedition, Bingham was very disappointed to find no treasure and returned to Lima from where he returned to the United States.


The turning point in Hiram Bingham's explorations came in 1910, when a friend of his, Edward S. Harkness, read the draft of the book of his last voyage. He was so impressed that he suggested a new expedition to find the last refuge of the Incas, the mythical Vilcabamba. The main stumbling block was the financing which, after many doors were closed, ended up paying his wife Alfreda, the National Geographic Society, Yale University and the United States National Geographic Society.


After practically a year of preparations, the expedition left for Cuzco in 1911. Bingham set about collecting information about the last capital of the Incas, and during a night of drinking, in which the sub-prefect of Cuzco drank more than necessary, He pronounced a key word for the discovery that the explorer was about to make: "Huayna Pichu", the name of the mountain at whose feet lie the ruins of Machu Picchu, the place where Bingham believed Vilcabamba was located.


On July 19, 1911, the expedition set out for the Urubamba valley and on July 23 they camped in Mandorpampa, a large plain near the site, which Bingham knew after hearing about it from the rector of the San Antonio Abad University of Cuzco. , Albert A. Giesecke.


Bingham enters to Machu Picchu

Believing he was at the gates of Vilcabamba, on Monday July 24, which dawned cloudy and with a light drizzle, Bingham entered the compound and realized the sensational discovery that he had just made. A city with spectacular architecture and engineering, totally unknown until then by the world. In his book he wrote: "Suddenly I found myself standing in front of the walls of a ruin and houses built with the best quality of Inca art. The walls were difficult to see as trees and moss had covered the stones for centuries. But In the shade of the bamboo and climbing the bushes were the visible walls made of white granite blocks cut with the highest precision. I found brilliant temples, royal houses, a great square and thousands of houses. It seemed to be in a dream. " He also documented each of the photos he was taking with his Kodak A3, and during the tour of the Bingham site he was able to read on one of the walls of the Temple of the Three Windows an inscription made in charcoal in which he said "Lizárraga" and one year: 1902. It was proof that long before him other people had already visited the site.


Aside from the controversy generated by the discovery, Bingham also received criticism for illegally stealing 46,332 archaeological pieces that were brought to Yale University. Only 300 were returned; the rest remain in large European museums such as the British Museum, the Louvre Museum or in private collections.


After failing in his political career and divorced twice, Hiram Bingham, who in his youth was a tall and handsome man, bold and with a seductive personality, died on June 6, 1956 at the age of 81. His body rests in the Alington National Cemetery (Virginia) where he was buried with all honors.


Best Tours in Peru

Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views. 

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